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After an unprecedented pandemic-induced drop in vehicle miles travelled (VMT), traffic has largely gone back to its normal madness across the country. But not all traffic patterns are returning to the pre-pandemic status quo, yet. Namely: morning rush.
One of the early signs of how the pandemic was impacting our lives was vehicles disappearing from our roads, but it started picking up as restrictions were relaxed. A new analysis reportedly showed that while the number of VMT in Feb. 2021 was still 12% below the previous year, by Mar. 2021 it had already risen to nearly 2% above the Feb. 2020 pre-pandemic baseline. VMT originally dropped 40.2% in Apr. 2020, compared to 2019. “Although states varied their reopening policies and timelines, the one-year mark denoted a clear ‘return to normal’ for the U.S. overall,” the report stated.
But as aforementioned, some traffic trends have yet to go back to so-called normal. StreetLight Data’s August 2020 analysis of hourly travel in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, and New York revealed the disappearance of the morning rush hour. Instead of the typical sharp morning peak travel, followed by an afternoon lull, and then an evening peak, the new data showed weekday traffic building gradually toward a more sustained afternoon high.
Los Angeles since at least Oct. 2020 was already experiencing a mini rush hour after lunch and seeing longer periods of lighter congestion in the afternoon, the report found.
In the latest analysis, this “rush afternoon” pattern has broadly held across most states. There are, however, some exceptions in the Florida cities of Tampa and Orlando, which were already returning to a more traditional daily traffic pattern by Feb. this year. And as remote work gradually transitions to office commutes, the report states that this is a warning sign that other cities may soon follow suit.
And while congestion is not exactly as it used to be pre-pandemic, driving has actually become more dangerous with the rate of motor vehicle deaths per miles driven increasing by 23.5% in May 2020 compared to May 2019.
In 2020, 38,680 people died on U.S. roads. This is up 7.2% or nearly 2,600 more than in 2019, despite people driving 13% fewer miles, as preliminary data showed. The fatality rate hit 1.37 deaths per 100 million miles — the highest figure since 2006. And to make matters worse, the number of traffic deaths was up more than 13% in the second half of 2020.
According to the NHTSA, the main behaviors that drove this increase included impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear seat belts. Deaths involving motorists not wearing seat belts were up 15%, speeding related deaths jumped by 10%, and fatal crashes involving alcohol rose 9%.
During the pandemic year, distracted driving and speeding increased throughout the country. In Los Angeles, the number of drunk driving incidents plummeted, which was directly attributed to the closure of restaurants and bars in 2020. Moreover, people arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, rather than alcohol, have held steady or increased during the pandemic. However, data reportedly suggests a higher number of serious crashes last year involved drug or alcohol use than previously nationwide.
In Los Angeles, though car collisions were down in 2020, traffic deaths went up. Similar to the national trends, this was largely due to motorists engaging in more reckless behavior behind the wheel. According to Crosstown, there were 35,654 vehicle collisions in the period that ran through Mar. 14, 2021.Moreover, there were 257 fatalities from Mar. 15, 2020 to Mar. 14, 2021.